Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Tree of Life - DVD Review

Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken and Sean Penn.
Directed by Terrence Malick.

There is no doubt Malick is a master of visual poetry. But 138 minutes of montages and scene fades doth not a movie make.

This very personal, ambitious work calls to mind Stanley Kubrick's 2001 as its closest comparison, but even Stanley got around to telling a story. Here we swim through a cubist flipbook of life for the three O'Brien boys in small-town 1950's Texas. Brad Pitt plays the domineering father; Jessica Chastain the angelic mother.

Malick shows his hand in the first few minutes. We gets beautiful shots of birds, wind, trees, blades of grass, shadows, children running, a woman smiling, whispered voice-overs, and it keeps going and going... I was grateful when it spins off into a 20-minute sequence of the Earth being formed, through the dinosaur age, until it all comes back to the O'Brien family. We get a couple scene of the oldest boy grown up, played by Sean Penn, but it's really more of a cameo.

I know of Malick's tendencies and I was braced for a non-linear story, ready for an artist to expose his palette. But this is from an artist who knows he's an artist, who acts and thinks like an artist, and if we don't get it, well, I guess we're too bourgeois. He knows what story he's telling, but he makes it inscrutable. There are lasting images and impressions, and yes, he is very talented. But it's not as profound as he thinks it is, and large sections of it are boring. That is its ultimate crime. I wanted it to wash over me, but after a while, when it became clear this was all Malick had up his sleeve, it was laborious. Gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot, and yet, what is the sum of these parts?

I wanted to love this movie, to get swept up by it, but would it kill the director to just let two characters have a conversation, to have something happen and then have the next scene be the reaction to what just happened? It's the longest 138-minute movie I've ever seen.

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